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The Bath at Mirzanagar

(Jessore), plan

Thought by some earlier antiquarians and historians in late 19th century as a ‘prison House’ the research of MA Bari, between the years 1978-80 have proved beyond doubt that this was really a bath house built probably by a Mughal faujdar stationed there to deal with the rebellion of the local zamindars. The description of the bath with a drawing given by Bari is reproduced here verbatim.

‘The building consists of four domed-chambers, four unroofed apartments and a large masonry well. The only entrance to the building is on the western side. This arched entrance, which is of four-centred type, leads to a square chamber (A) of 17 ft. 3 ins. a side internally, which was probably the dressing room. The chamber is roofed over by a well preserved dome on squinches on the upper angles, and lighted, except the doorway, through an oeil-de-beuf in the top of the dome and windows on the north and south walls. Each of the four walls internally shows at each end a four-centred type arched niche. From the dressing room one can enter through an archway into another square chamber (B) of the same architectural feature, but this chamber contains on the north-east corner a small walled-up space which was probably a water tank.

To the east of this chamber (B) are two unequal oblong domed-rooms (CD), which were probably the bathrooms proper. The northern bath-room (C) which is 10 ft, 6 ins. by 11 ft 3 ins internally, is separated by a 4 ft high wall from the southern one (D), which measures 10 ft 6 ins by 7 ft in the inside. Each of these rooms (CD) is approached only from the west by a separate narrow passage on the wall at a height of 4 ft. from the floor. This passage is, however, reached from either side by an ascending and descending flight of steps. Both these rooms do not contain any window and the light was admitted only through an oeil-de-beuf like the two western chambers (AB). Beyond these on the east are four rectangular unroofed rooms (EFGH), probably used as cisterns. Water was reserved in these rooms after having been lifted from the large masonry well (I) on the extreme south east corner, and then supplied to the bath rooms (CD) through earthen pipes, still seen fixed in the walls. The used water was discharged by the same sort of earthen pipes through the chamber (B)’.

The above description clearly reveals that the building was a bathhouse, an important adjunct to the residential buildings of the Mughal period. This building compares well with a similar hammam khana built probably by ‘some Nawab’ in the 17th century, wrongly called Habshi khana, at Iswaripur in Sathkhira Sub-division. Still it resembles another hammam khana at Jahazghata, some ten kilometers away from Ishwaripur.

3.1.4 Katras

Katra has possibly been originated from the Arabic word katrar or katara. Katara means a building having arches. In Arabic and Persian literature it has been called karwan sarai (Anglicised as caravansarai or simply sarai). The earliest reference of a monumental karwan sarai in Islamic architecture is to be found near Qasr al-Gharbi in-Syria built by Khalifa Hisham. Building of karwan sarai was regarded as a virtuous

act, and as such many sarai-khanas were reported to have been built by benevolent rulers on the sides of trade routes. A karwan sarai would generally have a courtyard. An arched verandah would surround the courtyard and beyond the verandah would be the rooms where the travellers and merchants took shelter on their way from one place to another; The beasts of burden like horses and camels with carts and other articles necessary for a journey were kept in the courtyard. It is assumed that there were a number of sarais along the trade routes in India including Bengal during the Sultanate and Mughal periods.

In a katra there was arrangement for sleeping rooms, of kitchen, dining space, lavatories, mosque and even hospital for the inmates. Although at the beginning katras were built for travellers and merchants it appears that at one time they also served the purpose of temporary residence for the rulers with accessory defensive arrangements thereby regarding by some as ‘a fort building’. A large number of their existence at one time in Dhaka suggest that they were reduced to boarding houses and market places built both by public and private initiatives. In cases waqf estates at private and public initiatives were also created for the maintenance and smooth running of a sarai khana. Two katras built at Dhaka by the Mughals deserve special mention. They are the Bara Katra and the Chhota Katra, the two of the grandest Mughal manuments still survive in parts.

Bara Katra. It is situated to the south of the Chawk Bazar and is located just on the Buriganga. Originally, the katra enclosed a quadrangular courtyard with 22 rooms on all of it’s fours sides. Two gateways were erected, one each on the north and south sides. The southern gate having a river frontage was planned on a grand scale and was marked with an elaborate three-storeyed structure containing an octagonal central chamber. The side portions were two-storeyed and encased by projected octagonal towers.

The gateway is rectangular in plan. It is lofty in height and it’s fornton is projected towards the river. A tall alcove rising to the second storey reduces the mass of this projection. The wall surface is relieved with panels that are square as well as rectangular, and they contain a variety of decorations of four-centred, cusped, horseshoe and flat arches. Above the apex of the alcove open the windows of the third storey. The three storeyed corner towers are hollow and can be approached from the subsidiary structures. Following the traditional pattern of the caravan sarai of central Asia, the Bara Katra was strongly fortified and was embellished with all the features of the imperial Mughal style.

The Bara Katra contains two inscriptions in Persian: one records that it was built in 1053 AH (1643-44 CE) and the other containing the date 1055 AH (1645-46 CE) confirms that. Shah Shuja gave the building to Mir Abul Qasim as-Samnani, the chief architect (mir-i-imarat), to be used as a katra on the condition that the officials in charge of the endowment (waqf) should not take any rent from any deserving person alighting therein. Twenty-two shops were endowed as waqf to defray the expenses of the katra.

It should be noted here that more than half of the katra building has already been destroyed and the building as a whole is in a dilapidated condition. It could not be taken over by the Department of Archaeology owing to the resistance of it’s owners. The owners have made several alterations to the original character of the building and have also started construction of a new multi-storeyed building in the area. Nevertheless, the surviving ruins stand as parts of an important monument– certainly one of the most magnificent Mughal edifices in Bengal having a monumental central archway. The sketch of Charles D’Oyly (1824-30) shows how grand was this structure at one time.

Chhota Katra. This monument situated about 200 yards east of the Bara Katra at Hakim Habibur Rahman Lane, is slightly smaller than the Bara Katra. It is similar in plan and was built almost for the same purpose. The katra is rectangular in plan, 101.20m × 92.05m externally and 81.07m × 69.19m infernally. The thickness of the outer walls is 0.91 to 1.00m and the maximum thickness of the bastion walls is 1.22m. There are two gateways like the former one on the north and the other on the south. The southern one is the main entrance. Both the gateways, though much altered recently, are still in situ. In the two outer corners of the south wall there are two octagonal towers.

The structures around the open courtyard have undergone much renovation, reconstruction and repair. Many modern extensions were also added to the original building. The three storeyed gateway on the river side has assumed some Colonial features. The triple windows and the lofty angle towers reflect this Colonial influence during subsequent restoration. The towers were strongly built and were without parapets and, compared to other Mughal minarets much thicker. The floor and the fairly wide stairway were built of woods. The room in the ground floor was vertically divided into two parts. The rooms are simple and without ornamentation.

The Chhota Katra is believed to have been built by Shayesta Khan in about 1664 CE. It is also said that the katra was constructed to accommodate some officials and also a part of Shayesta Khan’s expanding family. It is evident that the structure has lost much of it’s original look through indiscriminate alterations and unworthy restoration, though they have given it some durability.

Other Katras. There were some other katras known from Dhaka and elsewhere. Of the Dhaka katras Mukim Katra falls within Maulvi Bazar and the rest at Chawk Bazar area. Mukim Katra was built by Mirza Mukim a nobleman in 1662 during the subahdari of Mir Jumla. It is not possible now to trace the remains of this katra. Of others mention have been made of the following in the old city. They are Bakshi Bazar Katra, Mughaltuli Katra, Maya Katra, Nawab Katra, Nazir Katra, Rahmatganj Katra, and Badamtali Katra. Badamtali Katra was adjacent to the Chawk Bazar. There was a group of katras at Karwan Bazar. However, these are now non-extant.

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